Not only did producer/UPM Michele Imperato Stabile never get the memo about the perils of working with kids and animals, she’s actually become a bit of a specialist in both notoriously tough genres. After a decade working with Mike Nichols on films like Primary Colors and The Birdcage, Imperato Stabile began a run of talking animal films—Dr. Dolittle 2, two Garfield features, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the upcoming Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel—productions that would no doubt make W.C. Fields blush.
“I was planning to go to vet school,” says Imperato Stabile, a lifelong animal lover who lives on a Ventura County farm filled with horses and dogs, “until I took a job on a movie my uncle Ray [Hartwick] was a UPM on called Out of Bounds. I liked working on production budgets so much that I never applied to vet school.”
Veterinary medicine’s loss has been the movie industry’s gain. Not only has Imperato Stabile saved studios money by hiring the best possible animal trainers, she’s figured out four-legged-friendly ways to get the job done.
Initially, she recalls, “the studio [Fox] wanted to do Garfield at a price, so they had us bring in a real cat in a fat suit to audition for the role.I knew there was no way you could train a cat for the part and that we would have to go CGI. But a roomful of adults standing around a conference table staring at a kitty in a fat suit was pretty comical, nevertheless.”
For Dr. Dolittle 2, she faced the mother of all scheduling problems—Mother Nature herself. “We had to start late in the year to accommodate Eddie Murphy’s schedule,” she remembers, “so by the time shooting began, the bear was going into hibernation. So to keep the bear awake, we had to keep the stage really cold the entire time. We were all bundled up in coats while the trainers fed him sugary treats.”
While Imperato Stabile says the talking animal movies have been technically tricky, it was another project from a much different genre that accounted for her toughest production challenge to date. Last year’s romantic teen vampire film, Twilight, which she also executive produced, was a low-budget feature shot on a tight schedule and demanded roughly 90 percent exteriors with a very specific location requirement. “We couldn’t shoot in rain for obvious reasons, and we couldn’t have sunlight because the vampires would sparkle.”